The Orders and Fellowship gathering for clergy was held Jan. 21-22, 2015, at St. Mark’s UMC in Lincoln, Nebraska. The featured speakers came from a United Methodist congregation in Georgia where they have developed a discipling and leadership program for their congregation that begins intentionally with children in the fourth grade. They were invited to share how they developed the program and implemented it congregation-wide to inspire our clergy for developing spirit-led leaders in the local churches of the Great Plains.
During opening worship, Bishop Jones admitted in his sermon that he had recently been through a desert where he needed to rekindle joy. “The last four years have been hard on me. It started when the Jurisdiction said Nebraska and Kansas are going to be one area. I thought, ‘Uh oh, here we go!’” On top of the challenges of transitioning from three conferences, Jones was part of a group within the Council of Bishops that realized the United Methodist Church was in crisis and needed a call to action. The group based their work on the Towers Watson study of vitality and intended to influence General Conference toward increasing the number of vital congregations in the United States. “We were all excited, and then General Conference was this depressing letdown,” said Jones. Spending one out of every seven nights in his own bed added to the stress but brought him to the home of Bishop Bruce Ough who recommended “The Joy of the Gospel” by Pope Francis. Reconnecting with the joy that ought to be the privilege of every Christian requires turning to the Gospel of Jesus.
“Jesus’ whole life, his way of dealing with the poor, his actions, his integrity, his simple daily acts of generosity, and finally his complete self-giving, is precious and reveals the mystery of his divine life. Whenever we encounter this anew, we become convinced that it is exactly what others need, even though they may not recognize it.
“Enthusiasm for evangelization is based on this conviction. We have a treasure of life and love which cannot deceive, and a message which cannot mislead or disappoint. It penetrates to the depths of our hearts, sustaining and ennobling us. It is a truth which is never out of date because it reaches that part of us which nothing else can reach. Our infinite sadness can only be cured by an infinite love.
“But this conviction has to be sustained by our own constantly renewed experience of savoring Christ’s friendship and his message.”
Bishop Jones then gave the antidotes for the seven characteristics of chronically unhappy people.
“One of the reasons I’m so grateful for you all,” said Bishop Jones, “is when life gets really hard for the people of your communities, you walk alongside them, reminding them that God is in the midst of it, leading and guiding them.”
Wesleyans respond to the grace of God as evangelists, pastors and emissaries of Christ by helping people understand how God is already at work in their lives.
With the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, United Methodists are used by God to fix what’s wrong in the world.
“You all are people whose words are building up other folks,” said Jones, referring to Ephesians 4:29. “Your words convey God’s grace and help bring people together to overcome the conflicts that seem to infect far too many places in our society.”
“United Methodist preachers during appointment season especially understand that all of us have given ourselves over to the work of the Holy Spirit,” said Bishop Jones. Trusting God to cause all things to work together for good is the antidote for striving for control.
Fearful perspectives are encouraged in today’s media-saturated society. As easy as it is to turn one’s focus to problems, maintaining focus on God’s kingdom dispels the worry and fear. “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing,” reminded Jones.
Citing 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, Bishop Jones admitted, “These three verses haunt me because I don’t live up to them very well.” Yet this is the message to continually convey in order to counter chronic unhappiness and deliver people into the joy of the Gospel.
Bishop Jones said part of his sense of joy comes from being a leader in a conference of people who share the joy of the Gospel with people – week in, week out – in more than a thousand communities and local churches across two states. “Thank you for what you do,” said Bishop Jones.
Shifting gears, Jones said he thinks about difficulties facing Great Plains clergy and wonders, “If I as bishop went through dark times of wondering where is my joy, what about the people who are pastoring in local churches?” Jones’ desire for the Orders & Fellowship meeting was that clergy leave refreshed, with renewed joy of the Gospel. He offered three lessons for maintaining the joy in ministry.
Why did you say yes to God in the first place? Referring to Jeremiah 1:1-10, Bishop Jones said Jeremiah’s ministry was difficult, so starting by writing his call story gave perspective to the rest of the book.
“If you were called, you need to give God your very best,” said Jones. “You need to work hard at sermon preparation. You need to learn from the people we’ve brought up from Georgia about leadership development. You need to sharpen your skills for ministry. But in the end, it’s not about you.” The powerful grace of God and the work of the Holy Spirit can take our best and do amazing things with it.
Daily prayer and scripture reading, accountability groups and other forms of support are needed for pastors to navigate the difficulties of ordained ministry. Gatherings of places where the Holy Spirit is powerfully present are also important for inspiration and refreshment.
A video of Great Plains clergy sharing their call stories followed the sermon.
The Rev. Jay Hanson, senior pastor, and Anne Bosarge, director of discipleship, from The Chapel, a United Methodist congregation in Brunswick, Georgia, led three sessions on leadership development as a means for creating vital congregations. The workshop required pastors to engage in self-reflection, gauge their own strengths and weaknesses as leaders, and look at the importance of leaders at all age levels for building the kingdom.
Opening the first session, Hanson described his three-point charge as having a combined worship attendance that is ten times bigger than the town where he was born. “I serve a church of about 50 people, a church of about 300 people, and a church of about 1,000 people. One of my congregations is 10 years old, one is one week old, and one is 204 years old. So, wherever you are, whether you have a small church, a new church, an old church, we probably share something in common.”
Leaders are people with the ability to influence others. Leadership is relational, not positional. It’s influence, not power, and it’s intentional, not accidental. Most of all, Christian leaders are called.
“You know when you’re around someone who is a good leader,” said Hanson. “I just experienced it with your bishop during the worship service. I asked someone, ‘Is he always that good?’ and they said, ‘Yeah, he really is.’” Hanson referred to the uniting of three conferences relatively quickly and seamlessly as something to be celebrated, and applauded the apparent leadership that made the transition so smooth.
“We’ve discovered that no matter what we do, there will be problems,” said Hanson as he started outlining what his team has learned. Managing problems could take all their time if they focused on fixing problems. However, recruiting and equipping the right leader for a given situation would result in resolving the problem. “The answer to the problem, no matter what the problem, is the right leadership,” said Hanson. “There are no perfect leaders, but there are people perfectly suited for particular challenges.”
To cultivate enough leaders, they needed a leadership development system that flipped the way they viewed leadership. For example, rather than working alone, leaders seek and accept help. In order to have appropriate support and accountability, leaders live in authentic community. Leaders see themselves as students and grow. They pray, “Lord, do with me today whatever you must so that in the future you may do with me whatever you wish.”
In an exercise on setting God-sized goals, Great Plains clergy were asked to note where they want to be in their spiritual journey, in their family life, and their personal emotional growth in one year, then identify the steps needed to get there. Then they did the same with professional goals in leading volunteers, programming, church culture and local outreach.
Leaders also invest in others. A good leader is always working to raise up someone to take his or place. An adequate replaces has the right attitude, is dependable and respected, is willing to take risks, and is humble, not prideful. “They might not ‘fit the mold’ or ‘look the part,’ but if they have those characteristics, then you come alongside of them and you start pouring in,” said Hanson. Underscoring the need for a long-term view, Hanson said, “They may be in sixth grade. I’m not talking quick here.”
In the second session, Hanson and Bosarge opened by pointing out, “When you’re in the problem, it’s very difficult to see the solution. We don’t want to work in the problem. We want to work on the problem.” Pastors often tend to be right in the middle of problems. Putting some distance between themselves and the problem often helps. Problems could be related to money, morale, consistent quality, hospitality, people leaving the church, visitors, assimilation, youth ministry, choir, creativity, outreach or something else. “It’s tempting to say, ‘That’s the way it is, so let’s just do the best we can,’ but that’s working in the problem. Pull away and see if there’s a pattern.” One an underlying root issue is identified, it can be resolved. Those symptoms point to one problem which can be resolved through leadership development. The right leaders can find solutions to all those difficult situations.
“The more well-trained, full-equipped leaders you have, the more passionate, fully-committed participants you’ll have,” said Hanson.
Before starting the second session which would outline the details of the leadership development program at The Chapel, Anne Bosarge admitted that the information will be overwhelming. She compared it to a buffet where eating everything offered would be unwise if not impossible. “I don’t expect all of you go leave here and start implementing everything all at the same time,” said Bosarge. Clergy were encouraged to choose just one or two areas where their churches struggle and the information might be useful.
To answer questions about budget, Hanson shared that their budget is about 1/10th the size of the next church smaller than The Chapel in their conference, and the budget for the next larger church is three times theirs, so they work within tight financial constraints for a church of their size. Specifically the annual budget for their smallest congregation is about $190,000, the budget for the larger congregation is about $400,000, and the largest congregation has a budget around $900,000. Describing the $40,000 cost of a total renovation of a building they bought, Hanson said they did the work themselves. “It takes a long time, but it’s a great way to get people involved in ministry,” he said. Another cost-saving practice is rather than buy curriculum, they create it themselves.
To give a sense of their facilities, Bosarge and Hanson explained they focus their space on children’s ministry, youth ministry and worship. Small group meetings take place in homes and other places in the community, not necessarily within the church facilities. A photo of The Chapel showed utilitarian buildings with metal siding. “Just so we’re clear,” said Hanson, “We know they’re ugly. We’re fully aware of that.” However images of the inside of the buildings showed they have created worshipful environments where people can encounter God.
The demographics at The Chapel are broad. While they have a lot of children and youth, they also have a lot of older people.
“Our approach to ministry and programs is based on a concept I like to call ‘I can’t… but I can…’ which embraces limitations,” said Bosarge. Many people in their congregation are new to the faith so activities like tithing, being involved in ministry and serving don’t come naturally. “We identify our limitations and then figure out ways we can creatively move around them,” she said. For example, they recently installed a playground in spite of having no budget. They couldn’t go out and buy materials, but they could get donations of fencing and other items they could repurpose. “Now we have the coolest playground around,” proclaimed Bosarge as she encourage the Great Plains clergy to use the same mindset as they consider the program she was about to describe.
The Chapel's Leadership Development System has programs that target five environments: personal, congregational, systems, family ministry and staff/key leaders. Resources are available at www.thechapelbrunswick.com/resources/chapel-program-resources.
Trust and Become is the name of their discipleship program, a process that allows people to experience a welcoming space where they learn to trust and begin the journey to become the people God created them to be. When someone can say they trust Christ, the church, and others, they are invited to put down roots and move to the “become” phase of the process. By growing in their faith as The Chapel becomes their home, people are prepared to become worshipers who participate, tithe and pray regularly. They become a community by joining a Weslyan-type small group that is authentic and growing. Also they become missionaries who serve Christ either at the church or in the community. At The Chapel, church membership is a partnership where people join together to work alongside God and partner in the work God is doing in the community through the church.
“At The Chapel, we call our members Partners,” said Hanson. In American culture, membership is expected to have privileges. “Partnership has a sense of shared ownership and shared responsibilities,” said Hanson. “At our church, if you sit through an entire one of my talks, you’ve paid your dues and you belong. You’re in the family with all the privileges and benefits of belonging. We love you and accept you just the way you are. We’re not going to expect you to start acting like a Christian before you become one,” explained Hanson.
For Partners, expectations are much higher. Partnership at The Chapel demonstrates a commitment to partner in ministry, providing environments where people encounter God and fall in love with Jesus. “It’s not legalistic. It’s accountability in an atmosphere of grace,” said Hanson. “It’s my obligation as their shepherd and pastor to watch over the flock, so I’m paying attention to signs of their spiritual health.”
Personal leadership development involves constant improvement and growth as a follower of Christ as each person seeks to use his or her influence to lead others toward Christ.
|Spiritual Rule||A systematic plan for personal spiritual growth.|
|Time Management Plan||An intentional plan that helps chart your schedule and prioritize how you spend your time each day.|
|Bible Reading||Take time to read for personal growth, passages outside your weekly teaching responsibilities.|
|Personal & Professional Reading Plan||Make a list of books that will help you build your strengths, develop weak areas, and books for enjoyment.|
|Observe a Sabbath||Schedule one complete day of rest each week to renew your soul and reenergize your faith.|
|Sabbatical||As needed, schedule a block of time away from ministry. Worship at other churches, schedule time with family and friends, or take a personal spiritual retreat.|
|Authentic Community||Invest in a small group of people with whom you can share and invest (Home Church).|
|Physical Health||Develop a regular habit of healthy eating and exercise.|
Leaders over each ministry area keep the culture and vision for The Chapel. They care personally and relationally for volunteers, manage roles and schedules, attend specialized training, and receive personal and relational care from pastors and staff. In addition to these heads for the various ministry areas, service team captains serve as another layer of leadership. “We have one service team captain for every ministry area at every worship service,” said Bosarge. Here is how they are organized:
While this structure involves a lot of captains, having more people involved in leadership increases the amount of investment volunteers make in the church. “The more people we get as volunteers, the more other people want to volunteer because we have more spokespersons for each ministry area,” said Bosarge. Hanson jumped in to clarify. “I don’t look at people as resources to get work done. I look at work as an opportunity to help grow people,” he explained. For example when he recruits someone, he doesn’t ask them for help with a project. He frames his request as an opportunity to help the person grow. “I’m creating many opportunities for people to serve because serving is part of what they need to do to grow spiritually,” he said. “Do not be bashful about getting people to serve. It’s how you grew,” he said while pointing at the clergy in the audience. “We’re always looking at one job and asking how we can turn it into two jobs, then how we can turn two jobs into four jobs,” Hanson said. When people have responsibility for something, they feel needed and are also more likely to come to the service which helps with attendance.
Each service team captain is responsible for no more than 15 volunteers. The ratio of one captain to up to 15 volunteers is critical to maintain. Download the volunteer handbook and Captains’ fall retreat handbook and info, all of which can be adapted for any church.
Of the five environments targeted by The Chapel’s leadership development system, service teams are part of the congregational environment, although the environments seem to overlap to some degree. Congregational leadership development involves developing leaders who influence, motivate, and direct ministries that care for people within the church and reach out to others in the community.
|Opportunity||Path to get there||Equipping|
|Chapel Partners||church members||
|Service Team Captains||lead weekend volunteer teams||
|Children’s Ministry Leadership Team||leaders of age-level programs and volunteers||
|Youth Ministry Leadership Team||adult leaders in youth ministry||
|WOW Leadership Team||Lead Women on Wednesday (same as UMW)||
|Home Church Leaders||lead on-going home groups||
|Small Group Leaders||lead seasonal small groups||
|School of Ministry||leadership training for young adults||
|Care Ministry Leaders||lead hospital visitation, meals, peer counseling and parish nurse ministries||
|Missions Team Leaders||lead each outreach team: local and international missions||
Systems leadership development involves developing decision-making, strategic-thinking leaders who facilitate the systems and administration of ministries and programs.
|Opportunity||Path to get there||Equipping|
|HR, Finance, Trustees||Includes Staff Parish||
|Chapel Board||Church Council on Ministries||
Family ministry leadership development involves training parents, youth, and children to impact the next generation for Christ. The family ministry leadership teams each have about a dozen people who meet regularly, set direction and make plans, in addition to encouraging and leading volunteers.
|Opportunity||Path to get there||Equipping|
|Treehouse Leadership Team (TLT)||leadership in elementary worship environment||
|Leadership of the Greenhouse (LOG)||leadership in youth worship environment||
While the curriculum for children and youth has materials and “homework” for the home, parents are also invited to attend classes together as a family to interact and learn together within the safety of an environment where other families are also having faith-filled conversations. See curriculum online. “We’re an ‘orange’ church,” said Bosarge, which means the light of the world, represented by the color yellow, partners with the heart of the home, which is red, to create transformational change, which is orange. “We try to partner with and empower parents as often and in as many ways as we can to create that overlap,” said Bosarge.
The program to equip college-age young adult leaders for life and ministry is called L2.52. It has a launch retreat at the beginning of the summer to start these leaders on the right track, and then has them working throughout the summer in any one of a variety of areas. Some serve as interns to work with youth ministry. At the end of the summer, these young adult leaders come back together to debrief and clarify where God has been calling them. This program used to be called School of Ministry. The materials are being reformatted and are not currently available on the website.
This highly evolved system brings structure to their efforts but not rigidity. Hanson pointed out that they regularly question why they do what they do in any given area because the system is meant to be adaptable to suit the needs at the moment. “Systems and structure can be so locked in that they squeeze the life out of the church,” he said. “We’re Methodists so we look at the Book of Discipline and think it’s all prescribed and has to be that way.” Hanson sees the Book of Discipline differently. It lays out what is necessary (trustees, budget, staff, etc.) but also empowers churches to be creative in figuring out how to be most effective for doing ministry in any particular local context. “We always want life looking for structure, never structure looking for life,” said Hanson.
Staff leadership development applies to key leadership as well. It involves developing these key people as leaders of leaders, vision-keepers and culture-creators. It also involves challenging them to grow in faith and caring for their souls. Hanson noted that leadership development could just as well be called discipleship since it means helping people to become more like Jesus, and helping them reach and unleash their hidden potential. Hanson encouraged clergy who don’t currently have key leaders much less staff to pick some out to work with for four or five weeks and intentionally spend time on them.
At the Chapel, Tuesday mornings are when the staff has worship together, has fun, and then breaks into groups of three and they ask each other John Wesley’s “Holy Club” questions and invest in each other’s lives. Every third Thursday the staff sets aside time to pull away from the problems and engage in a prayer retreat. As for meetings, Hanson said they have a rule: “Every meeting has to be more fun than a movie.” People want to be at these meetings because they are fun and relationship-building. It makes business go better when the staff is relating to and trusting each other. The resource "Ministry Meeting Starters" has thought-provoking activities to do during the first 15 minutes of meetings to refocus, refresh, and renew passion for ministry. It’s one of many resources available at www.BrightIdeasForChurchLeaders.com
Another time for staff to get together are periodic “spaghetti dinners” which involve sharing a meal that may or may not involve spaghetti, but always leads staff to connect with each other, family-style. Hanson finished by underscoring the importance for clergy to make sure their staff and key leaders know that, as the shepherd of the flock, the pastor will protect and care for them. “When sheep feel safe, they’ll give you their best. When they don’t feel safe, they’ll get sickly and burned out, and eventually they’ll wander off,” he said. He said his primary job is to take care of his leaders and constantly look to raise up more. Watch a video of The Chapel staff describing staff leadership development.
The final session was geared toward leading clergy to create their own leadership development system for their local context and come away with next steps. “The cost of not being intentional about developing leaders,” said Hanson, is far greater than the cost of creating and implementing a leadership development system.
Some things to stop doing include filling gaps in the schedule with warm bodies. Putting people in a leadership position without developing them into leaders doesn’t work. Stop programs and ministries that don’t have strong leadership. If the program isn’t working, stop doing it. If you don’t have enough leaders for so many ministries, cut back on the number of ministries. Stop thinking about positional leadership and start thinking about personal leadership. Find the people of influence within the community, not just the church, and start developing relationships with them. And stop working in the problems for just one week.
Hanson had the clergy take time to consider the cost of improving their leadership development system, the cost of maintaining the status quo, and which cost they’d be glad they paid in ten years. While new appointments can happen at any time for United Methodist clergy, Hanson believes clergy who are being effective and desire to invest in a church for the long-term are less likely to be moved from one church to another. Change takes time, so he is in favor of staying in one appointment for a long time.
The steps to create a system of leadership development are:
Start in an area where God is already moving and a bright future seems apparent. Success breeds success and will be attractive to prospective leaders.
People need to know exactly what they are expected to do. That leads to consistent results. Job descriptions should include (in this order) the purpose of the job, specific responsibilities and duties, training, general expectations, and finally scheduling so people know what the time commitment is for the given role.
The leadership training can help them in their leadership roles outside the church as well as in their service to the church. Support also means showing appreciation. Suggestions include sending thank you notes, posting shout-outs on social media, expressing thanks in the worship service, putting flowers in the room where volunteers check in, providing chocolate, listening, praying for them, and sending surveys and responding to concerns.
To recruit leaders, start with asking in person. Affirm their strengths. Communicate the vision. Engage them immediately. Finally, provide community so they feel like they belong and their service matters. When lives are being transformed by God, it attracts people. If only one person is open to a transformed life, that’s all it takes to start, even if that one person is the pastor.
Training leaders involves targeting their personal spiritual development, equipping them in their roles and in general leadership skills. Take the time to train them in how to best use the tools, in speaking effectively to the people they serve, and discovering the ways God wired them to serve. Train them in the importance of their areas of service. Expose them to various teaching techniques. Help them assess and evaluate your programs so they are part of the data collection and interpretation. Most of all, give them the vision first and the details second. Empower them to realize the vision in their own way. Bosarge said, “We remind our leaders that who they are becoming matters more to us than what they do for us.”
Training time should be scheduled around time the leaders are already planning to be engaged in church activities rather than cutting into their family or work time.
Once leaders have been recruited and trained, they need to be retained. While always some leaders will leave as part of the way the kingdom is built, keeping leaders is certainly an important part of the system. Hanson pointed out that one key is being a pastor who is continually growing and developing or the leaders while grow beyond the pastor. Another key is to empower leaders to be free to lead their way. If they don’t feel free to fly within the church, they will fly away from the church.
During the Orders session all clergy met together rather than being divided into groups based on clergy status, i.e., elders, deacons, local pastors. The Rev. Jeff Gannon and the Rev. Nancy Lambert shared the results of a clergy survey conducted by the Board of Ordained Ministry Covenant Team. The purpose of the survey was to uncover the health of Great Plains clergy and the areas where growth was needed. The results were helpful in forming the agenda of the Covenant Team. 540 clergy responded to the survey.
When asked how respondents find clergy support, 40% of respondents skipped the question. Of the 322 who answered, 78% said through a covenant group, 27% through Bill Selby or similar groups, 23% through Counseling and Mediation Center groups. In the comments submitted with the survey, the strong desire for a deeper connection between clergy was apparent.
Asked for suggestions for helpful continuing educations events, 26% skipped the question. Of the 399 who answered, the suggestions were primarily around spiritual formation and leadership development.
Suggestions ways the clergy covenant could be strengthened so clergy support one another more consistently and effectively included retreat experiences, small groups, covenant groups or intentional relationship groups among clergy. A repeated suggestion was received that clergy must learn to stop competing with each other in order to support one another. 370 clergy answered the question while 32% skipped it.
When asked for suggestions on how the Board of Ordained Ministry could be helpful and supportive as clergy seek to strengthen their covenant with one another, 38% of respondents skipped the question. Of the 336 who answered, most ideas were around continuing education, celebration of major milestones (i.e., ordination, anniversaries), better communication from the Board about the process of candidacy, and selecting candidates who have shown fruit for ministry.
Lambert announced that the Great Plains Board of Ordained Ministry has looked carefully at the origination documents for the Norman and Opal Crounse Endowment Fund Grant Program and found that the way they were written actually allows the fund to be open to all Great Plains Conference clergy, not just Nebraska clergy. Grants are available for emergency and hardship assistance for all active and retired Great Plains United Methodist clergy and families, including surviving spouses and surviving dependent children. Any clergy experiencing financial need should alert his or her District Superintendent who would then make the request to the Bishop and the Cabinet.
New contributions to the fund would be welcome. Anyone who would like to help clergy through this fund may send contributions to the Topeka office marked for the Crounse fund.
Lambert also announced the Board of Ordained Ministry and the Cabinet are working on a continuing education policy for Great Plains clergy that will go into effect in January 2016 and will designate the amount of hours necessary.
Clergy are required to have boundary training which is specifically around maintaining safe and healthy relationships with everyone in a congregation. The Great Plains Conference has trained clergy to conduct boundary training. For more information, contact the Rev. Nancy Lambert.
The final question of the survey asked, “Regardless of the challenges of being clergy, what keeps you in the ministry?” Only 11% skipped this question. Of the 478 responses, most said they stay in ministry because of their call. Many asked for concrete ways in which the call can be renamed and reclaimed. They asked for significant moments when a person can recommit to their call.
Table discussion during this session was provided as an opportunity for clergy to connect.
The Rev. Dr. Karyn L. Wiseman gave the sermon during closing worship. Wiseman acknowledged how good it was to be back in her home conference. She currently serves as associate professor of homiletics and director of United Methodist studies at The Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. As a graduate from St. Paul School of Theology who was ordained as elder of the Kansas East Conference in 1996, Wiseman had many friends in the sanctuary to hear her preach.
Wiseman began by calling people on stage for a quick game of Follow the Leader which many people play as children but also as adults, particularly in church. “Sometimes we don’t know we’re playing Follow the Leader, and sometimes we’re playing but nobody is following us,” noted Wiseman. “Sometimes we’ve got so many leaders that don’t know the direction we’re going that we don’t know what to do.”
Circling back to the text on which her sermon was based – Luke 5:1-11 – Wiseman said this is one of her favorite texts because it is the only call story of the first disciples that involves a miraculous catch of fish. She notes that the crowds are pressing in on Jesus, a situation that in all her years as a pastor and professor she has never experienced personally. “I read this text and I think, ‘What would that be like?’”
Wiseman also notes the fisherman are likely exhausted and frustrated from a failed night of hard labor. Yet they agree to help Jesus by taking him out in a boat so he can address and minister to the crowd in his role as teacher and healer. Wiseman points out that Simon knew of Jesus because his mother-in-law had been miraculously healed by Jesus in Simon’s own house. However when these professional fisherman are told by the son of a carpenter how to fish, what is their reaction? Wiseman has a sixteen year old at home so she knows what an eyeroll looks like. Yet the fisherman do as Jesus commands and catch a miraculous array of fish that almost sinks the boats.
“Jesus has the miraculous ability to speak into a context in a way that people will understand and will follow his command,” said Wiseman.
The next miracle happens after the fisherman come back to shore when Jesus asks them to follow him and become fishers of people. “A ‘preacher’ asks people to do something and they do it,” said Wiseman, noting the unusual response. “Seriously? He asked one time to a group of lay people to do something and they do it! I want to serve that church. I want to be on that faculty,” said Wiseman. She noted that these fisherman just brought in a haul that would have left them financially comfortable for a significant amount of time, yet they left everything to follow Jesus.
“I don’t know about you, but when I was called into ministry, I said no for a long time,” confessed Wiseman. “Eventually I had to give up the life I was living so I could live into the life that God saw for me.” She noted that she never thought she’d stop pastoring a local church, but then came another call and now she teaches. “I don’t know where God is going to take me, but I know when God calls me, I have to answer,” she said.
While many predictions are made about the future of the church, Wiseman notes that when Jesus stood on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he addressed the context of that very moment. He did something non-traditional by going out on a boat to teach the crowd and people’s lives were transformed in a way that led them to leave everything and follow Jesus.
“The church needs those moments. Our culture needs those moments,” said Wisemen, referring to the fact one out of five Americans who have no religious affiliation and want nothing to do with the institutional church, a demographic often referred to as the “nones.” Of Americans age 30 and below the number of “nones” is three out of ten.
Wiseman then turned her attention to the “dones.” These people have been a part of church, contributed, been to Bible Study, worship and Sunday School, but they are done with the institutional church. While no demographic data is available, anecdotally the trend is clear. “Folks in their 50s, 60s and 70s are exiting the church,” said Wiseman. “We have to try new things to bring new faith communities into our worship life. But that doesn’t mean if we build it and if we screen it, then will come.”
“To follow Jesus, we have to follow him out of the four walls of our church and into our communities. We have to figure out who we are, who we can be and who we should be within the context of our community of faith,” said Wiseman. What doesn’t work is sitting in a church building and wondering why people don’t come according to our schedules, our needs and our preferences. Wiseman said we need to take risks and trying programs that are not guaranteed to succeed. When they fail, we then try other programs.
“A lot of people say we’re on the cusp of this new reformation, this new reclaiming of faith, but if we don’t do something that they want to be a part of, they aren’t coming back,” said Wiseman. “The ‘nones’ won’t come for the first time, the ‘dones’ won’t come back, and the folks who have been funding these ministries for years are going to die off.”
Admitting that no one in the room knows what the church is going to look like in 50 years, Wiseman exhorted, “We can create a church of the future that is going to be there not just for the next 50 years but for the next 500 years, that is contextually appropriate and in tune with what’s going on in this day and age.” Doing new things, going to new places, finding new people all require taking risks by all those called by Christ to transform the church into what it can be for the 21st century. However no “one size fits all” solution exists. Figuring out what is contextually appropriate for the moment is key, and in one year that could change.
Referring to all the assumptions, programs and models that need to be left behind, Wiseman asked, “If we’re not willing to follow Jesus, how in the heck are we going to get people to follow Jesus with us?” Even in churches where the traditional programs are working, non-traditional methods of identifying and building new faith communities are necessary for the future church. However it requires getting in the boat with Jesus, embracing the call on our lives and allowing miracles to happen through us, with us and even in spite of us. “God is still doing miraculous things every single day around us,” said Wiseman. “That’s not playing Follow the Leader. It’s actually following THE leader.”
“One of the things I know when you merge or do any kind of joint collaboration with other conferences and other institutions, it takes a while to get to know each other. When I arrived here I saw a lot of people I knew and a lot of people I didn’t know. I saw people with Nebraska tags sitting with people with Kansas tags, talking to each other. Some knew each other from the former conferences, and some had gotten to know each other over the last couple of years. So the great thing about these activities that bring people together is you’re figuring out who each other really is. The long-term deliberate process is what has made the transition so successful so far. It shows now that people felt like their concerns and issues had plenty of time to be addressed. I’ve asked people how things are going and heard positive things. The uniting conference was truly uniting.” – Rev. Dr. Karyn Wiseman
“I appreciate the focus on teaching leadership in a way that’s very practical to the local church, and viewing leadership not just from the clergy person to a committee chair but right down to all of the children of the church. Good stuff.” – Rev. Justin Lefto, Pleasant Valley UMC, Wichita
“I’m a relatively new pastor. I’m just going to licensing school next week. There’s a lot in this packet that is going to be useful, perhaps not immediately but over the long term. We have 800 members and five different services, so we have a lot of diversity.” – Doug Olson, adult ministry coordinator at St. Paul UMC, Omaha
“I’ve been doing this 41 years and sometimes you forget things. Other times you’re so focused on something over here, you forget to look at something else. We were just talking about how we’re going to take what we’ve learned and use it with our staff. I have a staff of ten and we meet once a week. I have a larger staff of preschool teachers, leaders of different teams, and other groups. I would like them to look at the material and see where they would like to proceed with some of it.” – Rev. Dr. Keith Johnson, lead pastor at St. Paul UMC, Omaha
“All churches struggle at something, I hope. If they don’t struggle, I want to take their pulse. We’ve been in the Vital Congregation program for a couple of years and still keep a Next Steps group going. I look at this as a way of keeping the church relevant and vital at the same time.” – Rev. Dr. Keith Johnson, lead pastor at St. Paul UMC, Omaha
“I’ve heard some of this before, but it’s good to hear again and from a different perspective. Some things the presenters have talked about, I’ve been doing for the last seven years at St. Paul, but they’re doing it in a little different fashion, so I’m looking at tweaking what we’re doing and also doing some new things that I hadn’t thought of.” – Rev. Dr. Keith Johnson, lead pastor at St. Paul UMC, Omaha
“I found both speakers to be energizing and informative. Sometimes it’s hard to sit for an hour and a half and stay interested, but they were both dynamic and able to really keep my interest. It was very thought provoking for me as far as setting a goal for the year. I’ve been feeling God calling me to be involved in a new kind of shepherding program that would be based on Wesley's class leaders. I had read an article that mentioned it, and now the speakers being here, calling me to put that intuition to work. I really think it will help me settle on that. Wesley’s class leaders used to go and visit in people’s homes at other times than when the class was meeting. We could have leaders who care for a designated class by phone calls or actual visits. We’re finding we have a lot of people who don’t attend regularly and they need to be encouraged. In order for our church to be able to reach out, we need to build ourselves back up and revitalize. I see this as kind of a way to be in touch with people on a personal, one-to-one basis, that wouldn’t take a lot of time or effort. I know I have some social people, so I’ve identified some people who would like to stay in touch with a group of members. Asking how is it with your soul may be uncomfortable in terms of phraseology, but just to check with people about their week and asking if they’ll be in church.” – Rev. Susan Greene, Pretty Prairie & Murdock UMC, Kansas
“Coming into a new church, it’s getting a feel for what needs work and what would help the church to be in its mission of transforming the world, and I think it starts with transforming a few of our own members right now and making sure we’re at the best of our ability to be good for the community.” – Rev. Susan Greene, Pretty Prairie & Murdock UMC, Kansas
“I come to Orders & Fellowship for the fellowship more than the sessions. It’s good to see old colleagues. You get to hear if they’re doing well and what their prayer concerns are. My district has cluster meetings which is a smaller crowd and more of a guided training program. We also spend time talking about our lives and churches, praying for each other, so there’s fellowship. I have clergy relationships outside of the UMC, working with Lutherans, Catholics, Evangelical Free and Presbyterians. I get an ecumenical clergy relationship that has really been healthy.” – Rev. Murry J. Johnston, Silver Creek-Monroe UMC, Nebraska
“I agree with our speaker when he said stamina and experience far outweigh youthful enthusiasm.” – Rev. David Watson, Salina First UMC, Kansas
“I liked the reminder that you need to line up your help and your life when you’re healthy, because when you hit hard times, it’s too late. That was something that would have helped me 30 years ago.” – Rev. Paul Wilke, Woodlawn UMC, Derby, Kansas
“I thought the session was incredible in so many wonderful ways. There’s nothing new, but it’s all very important and we need the refresher. I came away feeling totally blessed, and it was totally worth my time to be here.” – Rev. Jeff Gannon, Chapel Hill UMC, Wichita
“Developing leaders is a never-ending battle. You’re competing with people’s schedules and priorities. I’m a firm believer that my primary job is to develop lay leaders. It’s the greatest challenge and the greatest joy. It’s essential. Without it, the church will not realize its redemptive potential.” – Rev. Jeff Gannon, Chapel Hill UMC, Wichita